A SHSAT research paper published in the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering.

Jonathan Taylor
Hunter College Gender Equity Project


The use of test scores in school admissions has been a contentious issue for decades. In New York City’s elite public high schools, it has been particularly controversial because of disproportionate representation by ethnicity. Underrepresentation of girls has received less attention. This research compared the predictive validity and gender bias of the admissions criterion, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), with that of seventh grade GPA, a possible additional criterion.

The problem with high-stakes testing and women in STEM

Overall, the correlation was a loose one. Test scores predicted only 20 percent of the variation in students’ GPAs.  In other words, students with the same test high scores had wildly different GPAs at school the following year. At first glance, the test doesn’t seem very good at discerning A students from B students. Seventh-grade GPAs were twice as likely to predict ninth-grade achievement than test scores.

“People say the SHSAT is objective and that grades are unreliable,” Taylor said. “Schools and teachers have different subjective grading standards and grades are all over the place.

Missing Pieces of the Discussion Around Specialized High Schools and City Education

The results of this test also appear to be gender biased, as girls tend to score significantly higher on state exams and receive better grades, but score lower than boys on the SHSAT. (Girls were only admitted to Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech in 1969-1970.) The test is quirky in other ways and is scored to give extra points to students who do exceptionally well on the ELA or the math section – rather than those students who score well on both subjects.

74 Analysis Shows Girls Already Outperform Boys at NYC’s Elite Schools Amid Fear That Opening Up Admissions Would Water Down Quality

With the city’s focus on improving STEM options for girls, the use of the SHSAT seems a bit hypocritical

Perhaps, but the mayor’s initiative would also give more offers to a particular kind of student — one more likely to earn high GPAs, achieve college readiness on Regents exams, and graduate with top honors.

That type of student is girls.

According to the city’s calculation, girls would receive 62 percent of offers under the new policy — a big leap. Over the past three years, girls received 45 percent of offers; they constitute just 42 percent of the more than 15,000 students enrolled in the eight elite schools, a proportion that has remained essentially unchanged for years.